This week, not last week, will probably determine whether Egyptian dissidents have any chance of getting the government they took to the streets last week to demand.
This is the week of the Mubarak government's counter-revolution and, unlike the protesters, Mubarak's team have a well worn playbook for this sort of thing. The key to defeating the upheaval is to break it down into its constituent elements - political, economic, social - and focus on those that can be most easily and most effectively cut from the herd.
The government, headed by stand-in vice president Omar Suleiman, has promised to launch investigations into election fraud and corruption. In other words, his government is going to look into crimes by his government. He's also released a couple of prominent opposition leaders. Now he's targeting the country's 6-million people on the state payroll. State employees and its pensioners are getting an extra 15% in their pay packets. It's a tried and true tactic. During the 2008 food riots, Mubarak gave the same bunch a 30% hike to quell protest, and it worked.
Will the Egyptian protest movement, the force for change, be picked apart and neutralized? We'll know by how it comes through this week. One observer, David Africa, who worked for the African National Congress while it was still an underground movement, warns the fix is in:
The regime cannot be both the cause of the current conflict and the facilitator of negotiations to ensure its resolution. At this point it would be prudent for those who have been captured by a sudden optimism around the negotiations to consider the nature of the Egyptian regime that protesters have been fighting to remove over the past two weeks. The political strategy to reduce the regime to the persona of Hosni Mubarak flies in the face of all the evidence of a regime (understood as a system of government, authorities, rule, authority, control, command, administration, leadership) that has ruled the country with the brutality for the last thirty years, banning opposition, arresting and torturing political dissidents and all but destroying critical media.
The regime is not simply Mubarak, but a vast security network of a ruling party that has appropriated much of the Egyptian economy and foreign aid, and a number of prominent political families.
...Fundamental political change, in Africa and elsewhere, is always brought about by the forced removal or collapse of a regime or a negotiations process facilitated by a credible entity. It is never facilitated by an oppressive regime itself, and the Mubarak regime is certainly not set to create historical precedent in this instance. History is replete with examples of ostensibly sincere negotiations that were actually aimed at sustaining and sometimes rescuing an oppressive regime.
...While Suleiman and Mubarak - and some of their Western backers - continue to refer to their commitment to dealing with the " concerns of the protesters" as if these are minor issues, any negotiations must have the explicit objective of establishing a functioning democratic order, free expression of ideas and the disbanding of the oppressive state agencies that have brutalised the Egyptian people, not just in the past two weeks but for the last thirty years.
Negotiation is a tactic of political warfare and the Egyptian resistance movement must realise that the Mubarak regime is using it as such. The regime seeks to use its Suleiman-led negotiations as a back door to retaining power. In doing so, to use a metaphor by South African anti-apartheid leader Joe Slovo, it is trying to prevent the resistance snowball from becoming an avalanche and sweeping it away.
It's obvious from what they've said and everything they've done that the Suleiman led NDP is focused on one thing only, retaining power, and finding ways to neutralize the uprising. That the West approves of Suleiman's role suggests they share his objectives. And suppose Suleiman's gambit works, suppose he succeeds, what will the aftermath look like?